No. 8 Virginia came into Sunday night’s matchup against No. 11 Duke extremely confident. The Cavaliers (13-3-3, 6-2-2 ACC) came in with a three-game win streak, the last of which secured them home-field advantage against the Blue Devils (12-4-2, 6-2-2 ACC). However, Virginia was unable to make the most of numerous goal scoring opportunities and ultimately lost the game 1-2.
The first three minutes of games have proven to be a glaring problem for the Cavaliers this season. They allowed early goals previously in their matchups against Florida State and Syracuse, neither of which they won. Unfortunately for Virginia, Sunday night was no exception.
In the third minute, Duke freshman forward Kat Rader quickly took the ball up the field and looked toward sophomore forward Michelle Cooper. It was a two-on-two matchup, but Cooper managed to sneak past both Cavalier defenders and received the ball with nobody in front of her besides senior goalkeeper Cayla White. Cooper fired the ball past a diving White to give the Blue Devils the early lead.
It took Virginia awhile to find its groove, but graduate student forward Alexa Spaanstra was the one to end the shutout. In the 36th minute, senior defender Talia Staude was pushing the ball hard up the middle of the field when she passed the ball to junior midfielder Lia Godrey. This forced Spaanstra’s defender to make a choice — continue guarding Spaanstra and leave Godfrey with an open shot or try and force a turnover by leaving Spaanstra alone. The Duke defender chose the latter, however Godfrey unloaded a perfect pass to Spaanstra who had a wide open lane to the goal. She made the most of it and scored her seventh goal of the season, tying the game at one apiece.
The first half was a slow burn with neither goalkeeper making a save on a combined seven shots from both teams. The Cavaliers needed an offensive spark.
As Virginia began its warmups prior to the second half, the energy was seemingly high with several players dancing on the sidelines. The Cavaliers’ liveliness needed to be replicated on the field, and they made their best effort to do so.
Within two minutes, Virginia was putting pressure on the Blue Devil defense. Spaanstra had the ball on the left side of the field, and with several defenders coming her way, she managed to sneak the ball past all of them to freshman forward Maggie Cagle. With the goalkeeper out of position, Cagle had a clear shot at the goal. However, she misfired and slapped the ground in frustration.
While the Cavaliers dominated possession in the second half overall, Duke made the most of its opportunities. In the 56th minute, the Blue Devils quickly worked up the field and Rader received the ball. Out of nowhere, and with three Virginia defenders right on top of her, Rader sailed the ball into the back corner of the goal. The Cavaliers were stunned as they now found themselves in a deficit with the clock winding down.
Duke’s physical style of play is immensely different from Virginia’s. While the Cavaliers rank second in the country, committing only 5.32 fouls per game, the Blue Devils average 7.56 per game. The physicality was a major factor in Sunday’s game, as Duke ended the game with nine fouls, including a yellow card.
Virginia was running out of time, but graduate student forward Haley Hopkins was not ready to throw in the towel. As the rain started to fall, Hopkins could be heard yelling to her teammates that the game was not over. In the 87th minute, Hopkins had an opportunity to equalize the score, but her shot sailed over the top of the goal, and with it, the Cavaliers’ hopes of winning the game.
The loss officially eliminated Virginia from the ACC Tournament and was a tough pill to swallow for a Cavalier team that had defeated the Blue Devils earlier in the season.
“It was a tough result,” Coach Steve Swanson said. “We played very well in large stretches. Give Duke credit for burying the chances they got. They punished us for some mistakes that we made and that’s what good teams do … I’m focused on getting better and preparing ourselves for the NCAA Tournament.”
The Cavaliers will now wait for the announcement of the NCAA tournament field Monday.